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Killer on the Road: Violence and the American Interstate (Discovering America (University of Texas Press)) Hardcover – April 15, 2012

4 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


". . . part true-crime entertainment, part academic exegesis, part political folk ballad. . . . Strand’s cross-threaded tales of drifters, stranded motorists, and madmen got its hooks into me. Reading Ms. Strand’s thoughtful book is like driving a Nash Rambler after midnight on a highway to hell." (Dwight Garner New York Times)

". . . draws startling parallels between the inexorable advance of the Interstate System and the proliferation of killers who were pathologically stimulated by that long, open road." (Marilyn Stasio New York Times Book Review)

". . . a hybrid of cultural historian and indefatigable roving reporter, who can't help taking quirky pleasure sometimes in what ought to be an utterly grim story." (Newsweek)

"Ginger Strand is in possession of a sharp eye, a biting wit, a beguiling sense of fun―and a magnificent obsession." (Bloomberg)

"Strand proves herself to be a first-rate storyteller." (Booklist)

"The grim stories of murder on the highway may do for road trips what Jaws did for surfing." (Kirkus Reviews)

"Who knew that these marvelously engineered clover-leafed roadways would not just drive the economy but also create a deadly combination of social transience and personal anonymity, destabilizing sociopaths and psychopaths while making them feel invulnerable to legal consequences? . . . Killer on the Road merges the chilling appeal of true-crime stories with compelling social history." (American History)

About the Author

Ginger Strand is the author of Inventing Niagara, a Border’s Original Voices choice, and Flight, a novel. Her nonfiction has appeared in many places, including Harper’s, OnEarth, The Believer, and Orion, where she is a contributing editor. She grew up mostly in Michigan and now lives in New York City, but spends a lot of time on the road.

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Product Details

  • Series: Discovering America (University of Texas Press) (Book 2)
  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: University of Texas Press (April 15, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0292726376
  • ISBN-13: 978-0292726376
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,102,274 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I was born in Michigan and raised in Texas, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan, but mostly on a farm in Michigan. Here are my obsessions: water, ancient Rome, infrastructure, SuperFund, airplanes, silent film, panopticons, P.T. Barnum, photography, lies, the 1930s, Niagara Falls, EPA, Edward Wormley, consumerism, and rhinoceroses, especially one named Clara who lived in the 18th century. You can learn more about me and my work at my website, www.gingerstrand.com.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have just finished _Killer on the Road_, which I read from cover to cover without stopping. It is a rather short book given the nature of its thesis and I was worried that the brevity would mean that it lacked depth. I bought a copy for two reasons: first, I read a lot of books in the True Crime genre because of being close to five murdered people, because I want to understand the act of murder better; and second, because of the review of this book by the New York Times yesterday.

Now that I am done with it, I am pleasantly surprised how it covered a rather wide array of threads and pulled them together to make a coherent and believable narrative. I put it down wishing that it were longer - something I can not say about a lot of books these days. As a retired academic, I am very impressed by the work. The author presented and supported her thesis well, and wrote just enough to do that and not a word more. As someone who has suffered the torture of grading undergraduate essays and peer-reviewing journal articles, I am impressed at this feat of prose construction. This is superlative writing.

The book also contained insights into already-familiar serial killers that this jaded consumer of True Crime books did not expect. For example, the saga of Edmund Kemper is one I have encountered several times. I expected that the author would have little new to add to all the Kemper reporting already published. I was wrong. The author engaged my interest and kept it by presenting Kemper within the context of America's car-centric culture in a narrative that eschewed sensationalism.

I do have some quibbles. I'm not sure that examples like Kemper really belong when compared to more mobile interstate killers.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I think the mark of great nonfiction is to deliver a content that validates something people have always suspected, but have never taken the time to think through. This book does that to an impressive degree. Strand, who admits she is a research freak, shows us (through relentless digging for the facts), how the interstate road system created a fertile playground for serial killers. It became a killing field where they could ply their trade. She says that certainly serial killers had long existed, but the road system provided them with what they most needed - anonymity, mobility, and huge numbers of trusting hitchhikers.

Strand has actually two books here. She has a history of the the highway system and how it came to be. She dispels myths about their being built for military purposes, that they were built to move military hardware from one side of the country to the other and to make one mile of every five was straight to accomodate the landing of planes. Not true. It first failed to pass because of the huge price tag. When they converted it to a "defense bill" it passed.

So there is a marvelous education on just how highways were planned and constructed and how they affected both cities and small town America. She discusses sociological impacts, too, and the reflection of all of this in pop culture, from James Dean to The Doors' song, "Killer on the Road," which inspired the title of her book.

She tells the full story of many serial killers who worked along these highways, many of whom killed hitchhikers and then blamed their victims, saying "they shouldn't have been out there on the road like that."

This is a beautiful book in that it provides a nostalic look at how roads were sold politically and socially.
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Format: Hardcover
Serial killers are our modern bogeymen, since the 1950’s not a decade has gone by without the name of a serial killer marking both the literal and psychic landscape, their rage has become our voyeuristic rage. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The highway system is the ligature that connects this country and has hastened the advent of mass travel, communication and delivery of goods across the country, it was proposed and built during Eisenhower administration of the 50’s. Do you see the connection between the rise of era of serial killers and the highway system? Ginger Strand does and in “Killer on the Road: Violence and the American Interstate” she explains that one of the unintended consequences of the highway system was to abet serial killers and isolate the most at risk groups on whom serial killers prey.

Strand juxtaposes the building and expansion of the interstate highway system and some of the more sensational serial killers of the past 50 years and how the interstate system helped in their crimes. Starting in the 1950’s Strand starts with the spree killings of Charles Starkweather and Carol Ann Fugate, who didn’t technically use the interstate system, were the first highly mobile killers, committing their murders and jumping into their car or stealing an available one they would take off on the country roads to their next crime, it was shocking on a number of levels and caught the attention and frightened the nation.

Reading “Killer on the Road” ones become aware of the long litany of names of serial killers that have affected our culture and why. She identifies three reasons the interstate highway system has abetted serial killers in their ability to find victims.
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